A Heart Attack Brings Mother & Daughter Together!
The adoptee’s perspective…
For me, an unexpected heart attack at the age of 42 provided a convenient excuse to search out my birth parents. I was adopted from Deaconess Hospital in 1960. My adoptive parents were good, loving people and wonderful role models. I have an older brother who was also adopted and we have become very close as adults. So why did I have the burning desire to reconnect with my birth family? I can’t really answer that except to say that being adopted is something I’ve thought about constantly for as long as I can remember. I’ve always known that I was adopted. I once asked my adoptive mother when she’d first told me, and she replied, “The day we brought you home.”
Nevertheless as a young child, probably five or six, I waited daydreaming and hoping my birth parents would magically appear and take me “home.” My desire only intensified as I became a teenager and the physical differences between my adoptive parents and me became even more apparent. I am part Native American and my adoptive parents had very fair skin and blue eyes. My adoptive mother died in 1983 and again I desired to search, but didn’t know where, or even how to start. In the end, my fear of rejection out weighed my desire. Even if I had found the courage at that time, the laws had not yet changed to allow me to search in Oklahoma. Life went on and I continued to wonder if my birth family had ever thought about me, and perhaps more importantly, if they’d ever missed me.
My heart attack in 2003 was unexpected and I’d never even thought about heart issues, not knowing my family medical history and the fact that I was in a less than one percent risk category. Emergency double bypass surgery sidelined me for a few weeks and I again began to wonder, especially regarding my medical history. I contacted Deaconess Hospital and requested my family medical history and also placed my name on the reunion registry. In addition, I requested a search for my Native American heritage in the Chickasaw Nation.
My medical history was provided about a month later, but not much help since it contained only information up until the time I was born in 1960. In February 2004, I was notified by the Chickasaw Nation that my heritage had been traced and I was admitted into the tribe. That same week Debbie Campbell called regarding a possible intermediary search for my birth parents and hopefully updated medial history information. After careful consideration I agreed and the waiting and fear began. Would she reject me? It really didn’t take Debbie long to locate my birth mom, but it was an agonizing wait anyway.
Debbie was in constant contact and let me know once she’d spoken to my birth mom. That evening Judy called for the first time. I was so thrilled and thankful to talk to her. We talked for about an hour and at the end of the conversation I was afraid to hang up for fear that I’d never hear from her again. I never told her about my fear and the next week we exchanged pictures. What a remarkable feeling it was to open an envelope and know that it would somehow change my life. I was speechless looking at the pictures of “my family.” She had my hazel eyes. Judy soon also sent a scrapbook filled with her childhood pictures, and pictures of my 93-year old grandmother, a half-sister and half- brother, and my five nieces and nephews. I looked at that scrapbook a thousand times prior to meeting Judy.
A couple of months after our initial contact, Judy and her husband drove to Florida for a five-day reunion. We had a wonderful time getting acquainted. On the Forth of July, I flew to Houston where I was greeted by mom and my “new” brother, Chris and sister, Mandy. It was a tearful and joyful meeting followed by laughs and sharing. I’ve since had the opportunity to meet my grandmother, an aunt, cousins, and lots of nieces and nephews. Everyone has been so accepting.
Mom encouraged me to contact my birthfather who still lives in Oklahoma. Labor Day 2004, I met Doug and his wife at a restaurant in Oklahoma City. We sat and swapped tales for 2 ½ hours followed by hugs and an “I love you.” The next day I met Doug’s three sons and my half-brothers for lunch. Once again the conversation was lively and the hugs were plentiful. Seems the boys had known about me for quite a while and we were all glad to finally meet.
My adoptive father has since met Judy-mom and he has been wonderful and very supportive. My love for him will never lessen and I feel comfortable that he knows and feels the same. He is the same compassionate caring man I’ve known all my life and he has seen how my life has only been enhanced by abandoning the secrets that have haunted me. The past six months have been a roller coaster ride with mostly ups and very few downs. The happiness I’ve felt is indescribable. It’s like I’ve started anew, except this time there are no secrets.
Thoughts from a birth mother…
On March 29, 2004, I received a phone that will forever change my life. Debbie Campbell informed me that she was calling from Deaconess Hospital concerning a baby that had been adopted 43 years ago. She asked if I was Judith Ream Erdman, and if I was the baby’s mother. My first questions were, “Is she alive and healthy?” and “Has she had a happy and successful life?” As a birth parent, I had always hoped and prayed that my daughter would have loving adoptive parents and would become a happy, well adjusted, successful adult. Debbie informed me that my daughter, Melissa, had a heart attack 13 months before our call. She assured me that Melissa had bypass surgery and had made a full recovery, but was hoping to obtain any health information I could provide.
Debbie asked if I would be interested in any type of relationship with Melissa, even if it was only by phone or through the mail. At first, (even though I’m ashamed of it) I said, “I don’t think so, because my other kids don’t know about Melissa.” Debbie then told me that Melissa had written a letter, and asked if I would like for her to read it to me. Of course, I said “Yes”, and while Debbie read it, my decision was beginning to change. My husband, Ron, was gone for the afternoon, and as soon as he walked in the door, I said, “Remember the baby I had when I was 17 years old. I am going to talk to her.”
That night, I did hear my daughter’s voice for the first time. I was so nervous, I hardly remember what I said, but I did ask Melissa if she would send some pictures. In a few days, she sent a small album with pictures of her with her adoptive family, and also some of her as an adult with her partner, Jo. After corresponding for two months, my husband and I visited Melissa and Jo in Florida. We spent the nights in a motel, and the days with Melissa and Jo, getting to know each other, sightseeing, and meeting Melissa’s co-workers and friends. What an exciting five days it was getting acquainted with my daughter! The first time I talked to her on the phone after our trip, Melissa started off our conversation by saying, “Hi, Mom.” I’ll never forget my excitement!!!!!!!!
Since our first meeting, Melissa traveled to Texas in July for a reunion with her sister, Amanda, and her brother, Chris, and their children. We are all very thrilled to have Melissa in our family! Amanda says it’s like Melissa has had a special place in our family because she has always wanted a sister. While Melissa was in Texas, we kept her very busy meeting our friends and family. As a retired teacher, I was able to have “Show and Tell”.
Seeing Melissa fly back to Florida wasn’t too difficult because I knew she was planning a trip to Oklahoma in September, and I planned to meet her there. My mom, sister, nieces, cousins, and friends all gathered to meet Melissa. Another highlight of the trip was a day in Stillwater, the home of Oklahoma State University, the alma mater of Melissa and me. What a coincidence! But, the most exciting day was when I was introduced to Melissa’s adoptive dad, Pops. I wanted to thank him for taking care of Melissa throughout the years. When we met, I said, “Thank you for sharing your daughter with me.” He looked at me and said, “She’s our daughter.” Needless to say, he won over my heart, and as Melissa says, “He’s the sweetest man I’ve ever met.” I’m only sorry I was not able to meet Melissa’s adoptive mom who died when Melissa was 22 years old. She and Pops did a wonderful job raising Melissa, and I am so proud of her. I think God gave me a second chance the day Debbie called from the Adoption Agency.
Melissa and I are now planning our next trips to see each other. Melissa and Jo will visit us in Texas for the Christmas holidays. We’re hoping Pops and his wife, Kay, will join us also. Then, in the spring, Ron and I have a Florida vacation planned, but this time, we won’t be staying in a motel. We will be in Melissa and Jo’s home. I am a lucky mother and am so thankful Melissa took the first steps toward our reunion. We love her so very much!!